Opinion: The Problem with Kanye West

Maggie Turner, Features Editor

It’s a known fact that Kanye West is no stranger to controversy. From calling out President George W. Bush, interrupting Taylor Swift at the 2009 VMAs, and even running for President, his long timeline of divisive behavior has been passed off as an outcome to his diagnosed Bipolar mental illness or as part of his “artistic genius.” However, his recent behavior is none of these but dangerous rhetoric that will only cause more harm. 

At Paris Fashion Week this last month, West, now legally known as Ye, held a surprise collection from his brand YZY. In an intimate setting, he staged 30 looks for his first collection since late 2019. However, this wasn’t the main takeaway. During the show, people were met with shock and horror as the back of Ye’s shirt read an inconceivable statement: “White Lives Matter.” Wearing this along with him was conservative influencer and commentator Candace Owens, with other black models forced to carry the phrase on their backs as well. When Vogue fashion editor Gabriella Karefa-Jones spoke out about her distaste for the message, West launched a vitriolic bullying campaign across his Instagram, saying “This is not a fashion person.”

Ye is known for shock value, but this recent behavior is inexcusable. In a world currently driven by divisive, radical behavior, Ye has just fanned the flames. “White Lives Matter” has been characterized as a white supremacist phrase since 2015 by the Anti-Defamation League. Groups like the Ku Klux Klan and the Aryan Renaissance League have also employed the phrase. To the many trying to credit the shirt as part of his art is a lazy attempt to justify his words. There is no “subversive genius” in racism and allusions to white supremacy, but only a crazed attempt to try and bring attention to his own troubles, ones that should be kept far away from the free reign in social media, another abuse of power he has employed. In his now locked Instagram account, Ye has shared countless now-deleted pictures of text exchanges and Notes- app screenshots of conversations with others, but no real explanation for the shirt. “WHEN I SAID WAR I MEANT WAR,” he wrote on October 4th. His words seem to be an ocean of hate, mobilized towards anyone who speaks out about his behavior. When will we recognize his words as hate speech? When will we take a stand and move against his anti-blackness?

Ye is an artist with a vast history, a creative catalog that spans decades of work. I, for one, love his music. Many do. But there comes a time when one must detach themselves from the artist, and many of Ye’s fans never seem to realize this disconnect. I hear words on social media like “artistic genius,” “freethinker,” or “visionary,” but his recent behavior undermines this thinking. How is he any different from the same ideologies employed by black conservatives like his new partner Candace Owens? Ye has the same mindset, only now more entrenched in his own narcissism, he himself believing he found new insight. Just four years ago he stated slavery was a choice, and that racism was a now outdated concept. Why has he been allowed to keep going with this self-destructive thought, and how is his recent action any more forward-thinking or artistically heightened? The answer lies within the people that lift him up for these comments and support him blindly, validating his sick actions. 

After the outcry over his show in Paris, Ye sat down with Tucker Carlson of Fox News for an interview. In response to why he made the shirt, he said, “Because, they do. It’s the obvious thing.” Ye acts as if this is his creed–that extremism he spreads is enlightening, while in reality it is just a weak attempt at creating racial division and bringing attention to himself. But this action did not just stop with White Lives Matter. After being suspended from Instagram, Ye moved to Twitter, immediately moving to an anti-Semitic attack, saying “when I wake up I’m going death con 3 on JEWISH PEOPLE.” While this was swiftly deleted in violation of the app’s policies, prospective Twitter owner Elon Musk still welcomed him back to the app in another tweet, replying, “Welcome back to Twitter, my friend!” In a time when we must be keenly vigilant and aware that our actions can give way to violence, especially on social media, Musk sets a dangerous example that encourages this exclusionary and hateful behavior. Aside from blatant anti-Semitism, Ye and other supporters create a harmful rhetoric catered to his mass of supporters, focused on misinformation and hate.

If this whirlwind of social media craze over the past week has led to any discussion, we must realize we cannot ignore the effects of Kanye West’s words any longer. Prominent brands like Adidas, Balenciaga, Gap, Vogue have all cut ties with him, along with his personal lawyers and talent agency, signaling the swift consequences of his actions. Anti-blackness and anti-Semitism do not just stem from mental health issues, but signal a deeper hate for the respective parties. Instead of avoiding these actions or trying to justify them–we must look towards taking a stand on denouncing hate speech. This isn’t just “one of Kanye’s antics,” but a wake-up call for us all to call others out when necessary.